By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
Pope Francis’ encyclical on environmental issues comes out next Thursday. There’s been so much speculation about it, the actual text may seem irrelevant! Everyone seems to have an opinion about what it may, could or should say, what they fear it may say or what they fear it may ask them to do.
What keeps popping onto my head is very different, though. I can’t seem to shake an image that I used when I taught Art Fundamentals, to show what expressive art was. It was a simple piece, actually a young child’s crayon drawing, showing the child walking barefoot in the grass after a rain shower. Lush green grass was scribbled at the bottom. The little child was simply drawn, with a big smile and big toes most prominent. The joy of the moment was infectious.
I guess that‘s what my hope for the encyclical is. Yes, I realize that there are an alarming number of issues that need to be addressed, in order to have a healthy Earth: the consequences of climate change, how much is human-made, pollution of the land, water and air, ozone-layer depletion, finite resources, how too many are convinced that “I deserve all this – and more,” how the poor suffer the most from environmental problems, to name just a few.
It seems, though, that the ingredient in all this that’s so prominently missing is a healthy respect for our Earth. Quite simply, we can’t live without her. Something so intrinsic for our survival should be held in a bit more esteem. Her health should be a concern, I would think.
But, even more, what’s missing is our sense of awe. Earth isn’t just a great big vending machine, dispensing needed items to needy people. Earth is our home – and a beautiful one at that! We’re far too caught up in the busy-ness of day-to-day life to really notice how Earth feeds our spirit as well as our bodies, if only we let her.
Pope John Paul II made reference to that when he wrote in his 1990 World Day of Peace message, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation, that creation is God’s first self-revelation to humanity. And God pronounces it “good.” Earth, and all of creation, reveal the goodness and beauty of God.
The very title of the document, Laudato Si: Sulla cura della casa comune (Blessed Art You: On the care of the common home), gives notice that Pope Francis will emphasize the moral, ethical and theological elements. “Laudato si” are the opening words of the great prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, the Canticle of the Sun, in which he joins all of creation in praising God.
Perhaps the best way in which we can open our hearts to the message Pope Francis has for us is simply to open our eyes. Look away from the TV and out the window at the setting sun. Stop the car and be nourished by the field of flowers for a while. Put down the umbrella and feel the rain on your face – or better yet, feel the wet grass under your toes! If we cherish the Earth, we’ll more likely want to preserve it for future generations.